I've read some of Hickman's work for Marvel -- mostly The Ultimates
, a little of The Fantastic Four
-- and I love the science fictional
nature of his writing, the grand scope of it, the scientific and philosophical questions, the way he structures stories to start with independent intriguing threads and then lets them inevitably and explosively converge. His writing is big in the very best way. It has some of the traditional vices of hard sf as well as the virtues: his dialogue/narrative can be horribly portentous and pretentious and sometimes the dialogue is just too stiff and expository. There's a sort of coolness to his approach to characterization for The Ultimates,
a bit of distance, but it works for the series and its after all not necessarily trustworthy characters; so far The Fantastic Four
characterization seems to have more warmth. (And, honestly, after Mark Millar's superheated in-your-face brutality and Jeph Loeb's incomprehensible fervid melodrama, a little cold was welcome.) I was worried that his original work would suffer from lack of characterization (it is always praised for concept and never for character), but I was also intrigued by the hard graphic design stamp of the art.
Unfortunately, Red Mass for Mars
shows all of Hickman's flaws and few of his strengths. The art and design are pretty good, if not as striking as The Nightly News
; the artist does really interesting things with gradients. Sadly, the story is boring boring even more boring than that. It is more or less the tale of a superman or possibly supermen who find their humanity after the end of the world, but it's hard to care about them. It's hard even to care about the genocide of most of humanity, here just faceless masses. Any characterization comes from implicit reference to/contrast against Big Two superheroes. This examination of the selfishness and power hungriness of superheroes has been done before, long ago (Kingdom Come, Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns
) and more recently (Irredeemable
and probably another dozen I don't know), and it's been done better.
Also: Every visible character in the book is white. Most of them are male. Every speaking character is male, except for two women with one line each: One, identified only as Mars [Superman analogue]'s wife, screams "AAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRGHHHHHH" as she dies in childbirth* and one, Valkyrie [Thor/Wonder Woman analogue], says something like "For Earth!" right before she leads troops into battle where they -- and she -- will be wiped out within two pages.
* I will correct the number of letters and the final battle cry when I get home. But you get my point.
That's not so great for a series that's supposed to make us feel hey, the ENTIRE HUMAN RACE is dying here!